It was dark, very dark. No light could be seen at all, except for the occasional beam of light from the full moon as it broke through the nighttime cloud cover.
Pete looked down at his hands, which, like his other features, were very small. He sat with his hands cupped together, his knees between his arms. This was his thinking position, and he sat quietly on the ground, his thoughts racing and almost audible in the complete silence of the nighttime air.
How could things go so wrong so fast, he thought to himself.
Only a few hours earlier he had been at the school dance. He was the new kid at school, having only been going there for the last four months. He, his parents, and his younger brother had moved from Connecticut to the gulf coast of Florida. His father was a psychiatrist, and when he decided to move his practice south the whole family had to follow suit. It wasn't something that Pete was overjoyed about, having to leave his friends and his favorite cousin behind to go somewhere where he knew no one at all. And besides that it was the coast, which Pete had never even seen until they arrived.
Sitting in the dark, his thoughts drifted back to the first time he laid his eyes on the ocean. It was early in the morning, and the sun was coming up over the rippled water, creating an orange glow that rode on top of the waves. The ocean extended far as he could see. The expanse of it added to his already lonesome feeling. Standing beside him, his mother placed a caring arm around his shoulder. "Don't worry Peter", she said, "it'll feel like home real soon."
A lot she knew, Pete thought to himself.
And then there was the first few days of the new school year. Scenes of getting lost in the maze of unknown hallways ran through Pete's mind. Being from the north, he didn't dress like all of the other kids. They all seemed to wear the same kind of shorts and none of them would ever be caught in anything other than a tee shirt. And shoes? Sandals only, please. Pete wore his usual button down shirt and khaki slacks the first few days, until the snickering in the halls became unbearable. Having convinced his mother of the need to fit in, one day he showed up for school dressed in what seemed to him to be the standard uniform for all males; knee length cut offs, a very loose fitting tee shirt, and open toe sandals (which were almost impossible for him to walk in until he got used to them). But, having had very little sun on his legs and arms, they shone up a brilliant white against all of the other tanned students, producing even more snickering. It got even worse when his lack of sun exposure, combined with the intense rays that are inherent on the Gulf Coast, produced a rosy red color sunburn on his lightly freckled face and legs. The red tone contrasted with his brownish blond hair and light hazel eyes.
But probably the worst part of everything was that he was incredibly lonely. His dad was always busy trying to get his new practice off the ground, and his mother had a house to establish. His brother Ryan? Well, how much can you do with someone who is eight years younger than you? Besides, he was fitting in a lot quicker than Pete, having already had two or three kids from the elementary school over for the weekend by now. But Ryan was always like that: the kind of person who never meets a stranger and was always able to talk to anyone.
But it was different for Pete. Painfully introverted, he found it extremely difficult to even look someone he knew in the face, much less strangers. And to walk up to someone and start a conversation? Forget it. Especially since his very pronounced Connecticut accent stood out like a sore thumb against the rest of the kids "beach dude" manner of speaking.
And so he spent the first few weeks at his new school trying to avoid contact with anyone as much as possible. In class he would always try to sit in the back, as far away from the other kids as possible. When classes changed he would try to lag behind until everyone else was gone, then hurry to his locker and hope that he wasn't late for his next class. One time he didn't make it though, and he had to endure the stares of everyone as he walked the long journey to the back of the room to find an empty seat. The snickering was almost unbearable.
At lunch he had a special spot that he always tried to get. It was near the teacher's tables, and since none of the kids really wanted to be near the teachers during lunch, he was almost always guaranteed to be by himself while he ate.
And that was pretty much how it went for Pete for the first month of his new school year. Sometimes someone would say something to him, like "hello" or "get out of my way" as they pushed by him in the halls, but more often than not he could go an entire day and not have more than a few words directed at him. Except by his English teacher, Mrs. Stanton. All good teachers have an instinct for a particular talent in a kid, and she was no exception. She recognized Pete's literary ability from the first day, when she had the class write an essay about what they did over the summer vacation. Since then she had encouraged him to write more often, and had offered to read anything that he wrote. In fact, she had become the one and only person in the entire school that he felt comfortable talking with, and he considered Mrs. Stanton his only friend there. Almost every day he would bring her something he had written, either fresh or from his own personal archive of writings, begun when he was still in elementary school. Each time she would read over it, offer any advice she might see fit, and give it back to him. Pete would then thank her for the advice, take the paper, and almost bounce of the room. It was the only class he genuinely looked forward to. In time, word got around that he was a pretty good writer, and that's how Tyler came into the picture.
It was during lunch one day about six weeks into the school year. Pete was sitting at his customary table in the lunchroom by himself and finishing his lunch, when someone suddenly sat their plate across the table from him. Startled, he almost choked on a piece of pizza that he was swallowing.
"Hey, sorry dude. Didn't mean to scare you." Pete looked up. It was Tyler. "Do you mind if I sit here?"
Pete stammered a bit, trying to recover from the startle and the gagging in his throat. "No, I don't care. Go ahead," he finally said.
"Cool," Tyler said as he pulled out the chair from the table and started to sit down. He was tall, a lot taller than Pete, maybe five foot eight or so, with almost black hair that he habitually threw to the side every few minutes to keep it out of his dark brown eyes. He wasn't very thin or very fat, just somewhere in the middle, and he wore the customary oversized white tee shirt and knee length cut-offs. After he had sat down he took a half pint of milk, and after giving it a good shaking he opened the carton and downed it all in one quick gulp. This was followed by a very toothy white smile, a very loud burp, and then he tossed his mop of black hair to the left side of his face, out of his eyes.
Pete tried not to act nervous, but he could tell that he was getting all red in the face. I better be cool, he thought to himself. He tried to hurry and finish his last few bites of pizza.
"Man, they expect us to eat this?" Tyler said, as he took his fork and jabbed at a very stiff piece of pizza. His hair fell back down and dangled in front of his face as he looked down at his plate.
Pete tried his best to think of something funny to say back. Something witty, something that would show his "keen sense of phrasing", as Mrs. Stanton had once remarked about his writing.
"Yes, I guess so," Pete heard himself finally say. Yes, there you go, he thought to himself. Not exactly the wittiest response that had ever been uttered.
"So," Tyler said, still looking down at his plate as he attempted to saw his pizza into bite size pieces, "I hear that you are a good writer or something."
Pete stammered. "Well," he finally said, " I do write sometimes. I don't know if I would call it good or not." He sheepishly looked up from his plate to see Tyler grin as he shoved a rather large piece of pizza into his mouth, while yet again tossing those bangs out of his eyes.
"Not what I hear," he said, trying to get the words out in between chewing. "I heard that you are pretty good, and that Mrs. Stanton said so."
"Well, I don't know. Maybe so," Pete said as he started to get up from the table. He didn't want to be rude, but he knew he was getting visibly red from being nervous, like he always did. And it wasn't from the sunburn.
"I was wondering," Tyler said interrupting. "You know that essay we have to do for Biology, right?"
"Yes?" Pete slowly sat back down again.
"Well, I was wondering if maybe you could read over mine and see if it's ok. You know, to look for stuff that needs to be fixed?" Tyler continued to stuff pizza into his mouth, causing his words to slur together as he spoke.
"You mean proof read it for you?" Pete asked.
Swallowing hard, Tyler continued. "Yeah, that's it. I'm not very good with words and stuff, and I need to make a good grade on it so that I don't have to sit out the rest of the season." Tyler was a sophomore on the football team, and if he didn't maintain a C average in all of his classes he would be benched and not able to play.
Pete thought for a second. "Sure, why not?" he said.
Tyler started standing up from the table. "Thanks. I'll get it to you this afternoon in seventh period," he said as he reached for his tray.
Pete knew that Tyler was in his seventh period History class. But Tyler always sat in the front of the class because of his eyes, and Pete could always be found in the back, as far away from everyone else as he could get. "Sure thing," Pete managed to say as he started to stand up from the table. Feeling a little bit surer of himself than usual he added, "No problem Tyler."
Tyler was on his way to the garbage can, but then he stopped in mid step. Turning around he looked intently at Pete. "It's Pete, isn't it?" he said.
"Yes," Pete answered back. "Well, actually it's Peter, but everyone calls me Pete."
Tyler turned around and continued to the garbage can. "Well Pete," he said, emphasizing Pete's name as he emptied his tray, "I'll see you in seventh period." He then produced his signature toothy white smile, tossed his bangs out of his eyes one more time, and headed for the large double doors that were the entrance to the school's cafeteria.
Pete walked over to the garbage can and emptied his plate. His mind raced as he thought about the events of the last five minutes. He felt overcome with fear, while at the same time relieved, like after something good unexpectedly happens.
And then he realized that there was another feeling taking shape in his mind, one that he had hoped he would not have to deal with ever again.Next Chapter